The show isn't always going on

Times Staff Writer

While arts presenters try to carry on as usual, the war in Iraq has begun to prompt some cancellations by international performers.

In New York, the Metropolitan Opera confirmed Thursday that the husband-and-wife duo of tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Angela Gheorghiu had flown home to France, skipping their final two performances as the leads in Gounod's "Faust" because of terrorism fears and an unwillingness to be away from their family during wartime. The Met's alternate "Faust" cast will take the stars' place.

The Belcea Quartet, a British string ensemble, will not make its West Coast debut in Los Angeles tonight, having decided not to leave home during wartime.

Youssou N'Dour, the world-music headliner from Senegal, earlier this month canceled a 38-city U.S. tour, including a May 1 stop at UCLA, as a protest against America's Iraq policy.

Organizers of the Hollywood Black Film Festival postponed the annual event's opening from March 25 to June 3 out of concern that travel will be disrupted and the film community's focus will be diverted by the war.

Los Angeles Opera has a contingent of seven foreign singers and designers on hand for Saturday night's opening of "The Flying Dutchman," with six more international artists due early in May to begin rehearsals for "Don Giovanni."

"We anticipate everybody will be here through the 'Dutchman' run," opera spokesman Gary Murphy said. Despite the war's outbreak, Murphy said a near-sellout is expected Saturday in the 3,000-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with sales "pretty much on target" for the rest of the seven performances.

Although the Geffen, Pasadena Playhouse and Ahmanson theaters reported business as usual Wednesday evening, the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood said that 23 of 100 people canceled reservations for "Cesar and Ruben," Ed Begley Jr.'s play about Cesar Chavez.

So far, there appears to be no effect on pop music touring. No major venue concerts are scheduled this weekend in Los Angeles, but nationally nothing has been canceled because of the war, said Greg Terlizzi, a spokesman for Clear Channel, the country's largest concert promoter. Paul Tollett, a leading Southern California promoter, recalled that the Persian Gulf War had little impact on the concert business, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were another story. "No one can say what will happen in the weeks to come. That's the big question mark."

Part of the post-Sept. 11 fallout has been visa delays for international artists, as federal agents have stepped up screening to prevent possible terrorists from getting into the country. The Peking Opera of Jilim failed to get visas for its tour this month and canceled performances, including a stop in Davis, Calif.

At Opera Pacific in Orange County, production director Pat Houk said she is "beginning to get very concerned" about visas for Serbian director Dejan Miladinovic and several European cast members of "Il Trovatore," which is due to begin rehearsals April 7.

Arts leaders say they feel a special sense of mission to keep international talent in the pipeline. "Sadly, it's harder to do, but we should be trying harder because it's so important," said David Sefton, director of the heavily international UCLA Live performance series. But with the war's potential to unnerve artists or disrupt their travel plans, he said, "all you can do is sit and wait and see what happens." Marc A. Scorca, president of the national service organization Opera America, doesn't foresee a snowball effect from Alagna and Gheorghiu's high-profile defection from the Met. "I believe these will be isolated cases. I think artists understand they are a primary means for healing in a time of crisis, for cross-cultural understanding and an affirmation of community at a time when people may feel isolated."

Alec Treuhaft, senior vice president of IMG Artists agency, pointed to more practical reasons for performers staying the course. "Until such time as something concrete happens, my suspicion is that people in this business will keep their noses to the grindstone. It's their livelihood."

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